Rory Cellan-Jones

Google - is the love fading?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 5 Sep 08, 09:24 GMT

What is it about some technology companies that inspires enthusiasm, even love, amongst millions of consumers? People who would never dream of becoming fans of their bank ( Woooooo...let's hear it for Barclays!!!) or an oil company (I love you BP!!!), develop an emotional attachment to the products and personalities which emerge from firms like Apple, Nokia, Nintendo and, yes, even Microsoft.

Google HQOver the last decade Google has been one of the big beneficiaries of this cult of fandom. First, because out of nowhere it emerged with a product that did the job so much better than anything else. Then because it was seen as the smart, scrappy kid taking on the big boys of the internet - or rather one very big Seattle-based bruiser.

And when it arrived on the stockmarket with 2004's IPO, it reinforced that edgy, radical image. The first line of its so-called 'Owner's Manual for Shareholders' read: "Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one." There was much talk from Larry Page and Sergey Brin of giving the world access to information and great play was made of the company's ethical stance, summed up with the motto "Don't be evil."

Over the last four years, it has sought to retain the affection of its many fans, by offering them more and more for nothing - from Google Earth, to Google Docs, to Chrome. But somehow I feel the love is beginning to fade. Why?

Well the scrappy kid has grown up into a muscle-bound giant which, in the eyes of some web developer pygmies, is the new playground bully. It may claim that it is just a technology start-up, constantly looking for cool new tools to make us all more productive - but it is rapidly becoming an advertising and media giant, with as much domination of some sectors of the online market as Microsoft has over operating systems.

It may , with some justification, paint itself as a champion of open-source - but users of its new Chrome browser were quick to ask questions about some pretty scary terms and conditions, since amended by Google. And it may claim to be a champion of liberty - but Amnesty International and others will respond with one word - China.

But the main bone of contention in the relationship between Google and its users is privacy. Google loves us so much it wants to know everything about us - so that it can help us live better lives. But users are beginning to suspect that we're being, well, used - that Google just wants to know us better so that it can send us more adverts and sell us to its trading partners. When Eric Schmidt said earlier this year that he wanted the search engine to be able to answer questions such as "What shall I do tomorrow?" or "What job shall I take?", did you think "cool" or "creepy"?

So a decade of extraordinary innovation is worth celebrating, and Google is continuing to surprise and delight with new products. But it is also becoming just what Page and Brin said it would not become - a conventional company. Hardly surprising - like Apple, Microsoft, Nokia or Nintendo - its first duty is to its shareholders, and their returns depend on Google grabbing an ever larger slice of the online advertising market.

However, all of those happy, shiny, Googlers in their multi-coloured offices with the free muffins had better get used to one thing. The early passion of your users is fading. We're now in a conventional, commercial relationship - and if someone else comes along offering something better, we're off.


  • Comment number 1.

    Google's trying too hard in my opinion. And yes, my love with them is fading. They're trying to market dominate now, which is the one thing they were good for not doing.

  • Comment number 2.

    Certainly my love for Google is not fading nearly as rapidly as my love for the BBC and all of its PC and left-wing bias. In fact I now use Google News on my links in place of my BBC News link. The Google News link takes me to a multitude of news sources for stories, many of them without the BBC's faults. I do find it rather sad having grown up with the BBC from the times of the Home Service which could never be beaten for impartial and factual news - not today's offerings of the thoughts and views of the likes of Naughtie.

  • Comment number 3.

    O Henry,
    I wish to God I could disagree with a syllable you wrote. As I can't, let me thank you for stating the truth so clearly.

  • Comment number 4.

    What henry said x100.

    I wonder if this blog has been paid for by Microsoft?

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm a google fan. Love fading? Don't know I would agree with that - Love Affair with New Google only just starting. Here's why; Regardless of muscle and dominance Google started as a search engine. How many of us have noticed that the results from searches on google are, 9 times out of 10, terrible? Google use to wipe the floor with every other search engine. If you are finding search results from Google inaccurate and not relevant start checking the results from some of the other engines out there - not least yahoo - and see the difference!
    Google, the big lumbering beast, has lost focus in an effort to become rich - and dominant(?). Sounds like I have fallen out of love - not at all. I can't rely on google for searches anymore but New Google - wow - useful tools, widgets, gadgets, resources, money making opportunities. All for Free - well not quite - the trade off (apart from hard cash for pro tools) is Privacy - eeek, horrible word, seems if you want Privacy that means you have something to hide...doesn't it? Well I don't have anything to hide but I like Privacy[another post another time]. Anyway, Google have been very busy over the last few years and I think it has reached a 'New' status in it's existence - Google 3.0(?) - and I am in Love, head over heals in love! (It's just no good at searches anymore, oh and privacy (or human rights) but no one is perfect!) - love is blind they say...

  • Comment number 6.

    Although I commend what Google have done over the last 10 years and use many of their free services I have been quite dubious for about 2 years now about their ferocious rate of expansion into pretty much everything web based.
    I've felt like i'm being lured into a trap with all the free stuff, open sourcing and general happy nature with which Google presents itself. Perhaps this is the best marketing ploy of modern times. Set yourself up as the anti-Microsoft and win millions of computer users across the digital world, then secretly deploy the revenue makers gradually so we wouldn't notice. Nowadays, pretty much everything that Google touches is riddled with advertising, be it somewhat unobtrusive, but it's there nonetheless.
    Despite my reseverations I will continue to use many of Googles services while keeping one eye open however.

  • Comment number 7.

    I might have a bit more time for them if they actually released a product properly, rather than slapping a 'beta' tag on it an leaving it at that.

    I'd be more inclined to take notice of them if they launched a creditable alternative to (fe)eBay.

  • Comment number 8.

    I must admit I've never quite understood all the hype about Google (ditto Apple !). I'm a Luddite and continue to use Altavista. Sometime I use Google just to check if it comes up with anything better - it rarely does !
    I do - however - very much objective to Google's presumption that they can use my search history and target me for ads.
    We should also be aware of how much control Google has about what we see and how it can affect business who rely on the Internet to promote their products

  • Comment number 9.

    I would be in the group of people who would consider themselves to be a fan, but (isn't there always a but?) - I think they've reached or are about to reach a watershed.

    They are on the cusp of crossing from cool to creepy, from edgy to establishment and from mega to monolith.

    I like they're products, I like using them, but I'm starting to develop reservations about what they do with what I do with their software.

    I think they need to do some harwork, and quickly, to convince more people that they are living up to the laudable aspiration of doing no evil.

  • Comment number 10.

    There's nothing surprising about Google's fading 'cool factor'. The "UserFriendly" comic from 2006-03-23 pretty much sums it up:
    -"Anything that becomes popular, instantly sucks. It's a rule of the internets."
    -"Clearly, it's a popular rule."

    If Linux manages to break through to the consumer market, it's current coolness will also break down and people will start to attack its weaknesses. There's nothing logical about this, it's just an emotional thing.

  • Comment number 11.

    Well you've given all the answers to why love fades, it's all about money.

    Once shareholders become involved, and management professionals take over, the legal requirement to generate shareholder value overrides any aspiration to trade with any other objective.

    They continue to succeed because they have an excellent primary product, supported by advertising that cleverly doesn't annoy the users. The days of cheering them on as valiant Davids fighting the IT Goliaths are in the biblical past.

    I'm not under any illusion that there is any other reason for anything they do other than to wring some more cash out of us, into the till, but that's business.

    The question is, are they respectful and open enough towards us about how they are making that money to ensure the afterglow of our love lasts?

  • Comment number 12.

    Google IS the new Microsoft

  • Comment number 13.

    Google had to backtrack on their claim that they had copyright on anything that was posted via Chrome. Their excuse was that they used those terms and conditions on other products and they were left in the Chrome license by mistake.

    This made me look more closely at the EULAs for those 'other products', and I've now discovered that Google claim copyright on everything I store in my Google documents folder.

    As a writer, I find this totally unacceptable, and from today I will no longer be using Google documents, googlemail, or even their search engine.

    But I *really* fell out with Google a while back over the 'Do extreme evil' China incident.

  • Comment number 14.

    Google have never been any different to any other company when it comes to. What they did write however, what they had that Microsoft, Apple, AOL and Netscape never had was an understanding of the internet.

    Google understood from day one that to take the internet, you have to have it's users on side, to have it's users as a whole on side you have to have the geeks on side. Google has always known by becoming loved by the geeks, it would be adopted by the geeks and once it's adopted by the geeks the geeks will ensure that it is adopted by the masses by getting it rolled out to them.

    Google knows what geeks like, they know they love free software, they know they generally support civil liberties and have a very pro-human rights view of the world. They're liberals, they will leave things alone if things leave them alone, but if they don't then the things in question can expect a hell of a come back. You only have to look at Microsoft's image worldwide as an evil company as a testament to that.

    The problem for Google is that it's beginning to forget this, it's beginning to become complacent (i.e. the China situation) and it has forgotten the most important part of all this- by letting it's popularity in the geek communicates slide it's opening the door for the next startup who understands these people to come along and steal the show just as Google did.

    Apple has never really understood the geeks but it does understand fashion victims in much the same way. It understands that it doesn't matter how good a product is to do well, it just has to be cool amongst a certain population- in Apple's case primarily students of school, college and university ages. It's captured some of the IT crowd but only the fringe.

    Both companies have their own niche groups, just like Microsoft captured big business but none of these companies are invulnerable, it just takes someone to come along with an equal understanding of their userbases and without the complacency that these companies have gained with them to topple them. To cite a recent example, Microsoft got complacent after defeating Netscape with Internet Explorer, then out of the blue arose Firefox into mass popularity. This is why any company's dream is to cover multiple business areas, so that even if you fail in one you still have the other- whilst Microsoft has this advantage Google and Apple don't and Apple have even been victim to this mistake in the past.

    Disclaimer: I'm a geek.

  • Comment number 15.

    I have to admit, I find it somewhat funny when people continuously go on about these adds that search your history etc etc. I get the fact that it might be seen as an invasion of privacy, but I mean does anyone actually pay attention to them in the first place? If I see an add on a website, its instantly vanished into my mentaly "un-important region of screen" block list. I've become so accustomed to ignoring adds that they are no more a distraction than the adverts that are spammed over TV.

    And while we're on the subject of adverts geared towards your internet history, does anyone that complains about that actually realise that the adverts shown on TV are done in precisely the same way? Your TV viewing habbits are collated and used by the TV company to price and organise the advertisements. Surely that is precisely the same invasion of privacy, yet is readily accepted.

    As far as google is concerned, for me its not really much more than a search engine. Out of all the search engines available, I find it the most convinient but its not really much more that. I occasionaly use google earth and google maps but not nearly enough to consider it a necessity or tool I couldn't live without.

    So I guess you could say I was never "in love" with it in the first place in order to full out of love with it now ... but thats not to say I was in anyway against it. To me its that girl that may or may not be pretty as you can never see past her being one of your good friends.

  • Comment number 16.

    Statement of interest: I love Google.

    But then you have to ask "why?". To compare Google to Micro$oft is just absurd. M$ got their stranglehold in the market through aggressive, and often illegal, marketing of shoddy, expensive products to people who don't know any different (and don't usually have any choice). Google have got their crown just by being best. They've always supported me as a Linux user, and if I don't like their products I can very easily opt for another search engine, or another browser. Unlike M$ (and Apple), they maintain their market position through excellence, not through lock-in (boy, how much do I hate it when people send me documents in .doc format).

    Thats why I love them, and if the (only) price I pay is that they openly collect some information on my browsing habits in order to provide me with unobtrusive advertising of products that i might actually be interested in, well, that's cheap enough for me. It escapes me why there's so much fuss about this, when the typical M$ end-user licence agreement gives Redmond a truly terrifying degree of control over YOUR computer, and nobody bats an eye.

  • Comment number 17.

    With Google, I do not feel like a customer. I certainly do not feel my interests are compromised in any fashion.

    Google has the most talented collection of professionals in the field. Like a musician that loves their craft, these folks make a far more concerted effort to please their audience.

    I continue to view the other software company demonized here as a collection of hyper-productive neophytes. I do not feel like their customer either. I feel like a victim.

  • Comment number 18.

    Left wing bias in an opinion piece about Google? This is worse than Reds under the bed. If you find Today so annoying, why not do what I do and listen to 5Live instead? There is more to the BBC than Radio Four, after all.

  • Comment number 19.

    In reply to #2:

    If you hate the BBC so much then why continue using it? And what left-wing bias is there? Seriously, I'd like someone to tell me where left-wing bias, and anti-right-wing bias, can be found. There will always be complaints from left and right-wingers saying that the BBC is too much on the other side of their beliefs...isn't that the job of the BBC? To be dead centre ie neutral?

  • Comment number 20.

    @ whiteforte: I checked the google docs EULA for google docs and the licence says the exact opposite of your statement that google claim rights to your writing in google docs.

    I think you were looking at the wrong EULA, cheer up mate, I am a journalist too, the very idea that Google could swipe the IP to work my collegues and I share on Docs is inconceivable.

    See below:

    9.4 Other than the limited license set forth in Section 11, Google acknowledges and agrees that it obtains no right, title or interest from you (or your licensors) under these Terms in or to any Content that you submit, post, transmit or display on, or through, the Services, including any intellectual property rights which subsist in that Content (whether those rights happen to be registered or not, and wherever in the world those rights may exist). Unless you have agreed otherwise in writing with Google, you agree that you are responsible for protecting and enforcing those rights and that Google has no obligation to do so on your behalf.

  • Comment number 21.

    re: comment 15
    I absolutely agree. Ads, targetted or otherwise are all around us anyway. I don't pay much attention to them, and if I do they have caught my eye because they are relevant - again the media used is irrelevant.

    The fact is that internet/TV/magazines are worth what you ascribe to them. I value google as a tool - some bits I like and use, some I don't. It is perfectly possible to have an entire online life without giving a penny or a single byte of data to google if you really want to. But if you're paranoid about someone at google tracking every online movement you're making then the numbers involved should be quite reassuring (ironic that "google" was originally a misspelling of "googol" (10 to the power of 100)

  • Comment number 22.

    In some ways Google has become the Internet - people optimise their websites to be found on Google, and once could be forgiven for drawing comparisons with Microsoft. However, like generals who think they are fighting the last war, we expect history to repeat itself in a predictable manner. The rise of Google was shockingly fast, and I believe that the way the Internet works will only make future 'events' happen even more quickly. Google's model revolves around keeping eyeballs on the Internet, and eyeballs can move in a blink (sorry, bad pun I know!). Their best defence to that is continuing to innovate and provide value. In other words, as long as they keep providing utility we will use them, but if they make end up entrenched in a fundamental mistake they could die very quickly.

  • Comment number 23.

    Google is adept to open source ? I want to see Google open source their search engine !

  • Comment number 24.

    So whats new? surest way of making money via the net has always been to maintain the facade that you aren't in it for the money even though you are.

    Some comanies just happen to be better at the internet PR equivalent of kissing babies than others, I guess there just comes a time when the corporate acounts get so fat you can't maintain the illusion any longer

  • Comment number 25.

    It's simple, really. Techies tend to be nerds, people who were shunned by the "popular" kids at school and made to feel very much like the underdogs. As a result, they tend towards underdogs in other areas. When the underdog becomes mainstream, it loses that quality that the nerd can identify with, and suddenly it doesn't feel like it's part of their special little world. It's the same with music and films, although in fairness, the company/band/film-maker in question more often than not loses some of what gave them their initial appeal while trying to pander to the masses. (I should point out at this juncture that I have nerdy leanings myself, so this is not an attack, just an observation).

    Anyway, Google itself: Google is (or so I understand) entirely funded by those adverts it shows down the side of the search results. The adverts that I never bother clicking. Companies are paying Google to target their adverts to my search habits, which I then disregard completely (except on the very, very rare occasions that they are of some use to me). So then, who's the one being used?

    I can't think of anything more anti-corporate than duping companies into giving you money for totally unguaranteed returns. Besides, is it really any worse than the way other advertising works? (children's toys during children's programmes; beauty products during make-over shows; food adverts during cookery programmes)

  • Comment number 26.

    Fans don't think, they believe.

    For many others, once Google was cool, now it's not.

    The sensible base decisions on other criteria. Google have shown a cavalier attitude (at best) to their users' privacy. I said no to GMail, and at the moment I'm saying no to Chrome as well. I do use the search engine and Google Earth.

    Loyalty to companies is for mugs.

  • Comment number 27.

    first off (@8)
    Altavista is heavily reliant on yahoo, which in turn is now hugely commited to revenue sharing with google - in effect your searching on something that isnt as good as yahoo, but relies on a system that is proven to not be anywhere near google

    Anyway, on topic; google has expanded way beyond a search engine, but the core business is still heavily reliant on people using to search for things, if people started using yahoo (after clearance from US for yahoo to show google ads), then youd effectively be getting googles power, with yahoos terms (do you REALLY think that google will let yahoo use adwords on a special commission with its current search algorithm? Keep your eyes peeled for 1, perhaps 2 google employees leaving by 'mutual consent' and joining yahoo - id bet at least 4 figure sums that happens!

    All of the things google offers, id like to note, are mostly also available on yahoo, with much less intrusive privacy fears, also the fact that yahoo's ad system is effectively being scrapped in favour of AdWords; you again wont be snared by ads that start to scare you

  • Comment number 28.

    ugh @25 - just re-read your post.. You GREATLY underestimate the rest of internet users, aswell as companies; do you really think shareholders would allow mass advertising campaigns online that give no return? Of course not, granted its not perfect, but the fact is that google makes billions PROFIT a year, so if companies didnt get leads, google wouldn't get money - see where im going with this?

    Just had another scary thought - at googles inception, what company was willing to invest billions into the internet-based companies? One, possibly, in yahoo (who turned down buying google) - now there is google, yahoo and microsoft all looking to gain ground and companies such as MTV and CNet looking to boost profits, any start ups that have the potential to be as good as google, will more than likely be snapped up by the big-wigs, and turned into revenue generating machines for the very people the start-ups were made to shun.

    Dont hate google, hate capitalism for creating the 'big guys' in the first place, and allowing them to stay up there.

  • Comment number 29.

    @ 14 whitford - you need to read Google's terms a bit more closely.

    The clause you're complaining about doesn't give Google an open license to use the content you create - in fact, their terms for Google Docs (as with Chrome) are quite restrictive.

    The clause you're worried about is clause 11 - which clearly states that "This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services."

    So you give them a licence to use your content so that they can do what you have asked them to do. They're not going to try to rip you off, and anyone who reads that into the clause is either paranoid or making mischief. Moreover, the clause clearly states that the license may be revoked as defined in Additional Terms - and lo and behold, when you look at the Additional Terms for Google Docs they state:

    "Section 11.1 of the Terms of Service governing Google Docs is replaced in its entirety by:

    "You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold to Content which you submit, post or display on or through the Service. By submitting, posting or displaying the Content, you give Google a worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through the Service for the sole purpose of enabling Google to provide you with the Service in accordance with its Privacy Policy."

    Case solved.

  • Comment number 30.

    I agree about the Chrome TOS being too shady and the dominance in the ad and search sector can (and maybe will) become a problem. But as long as they release great products which are mostly free, can you honestly complain? Alternatives being Microsoft, Apple...Google is certainly the better one of the bunch.

    Side note, I feel sad for Firefox since most users migrating to Chrome will be doing so from their user base, the IE users will keep using the same old stagnant IE for years (lagging behind by features in every way). Firefox has been and is a great browser.

  • Comment number 31.

    Google, along with Microsoft and Yahoo!, should be doing more to avoid meeting the censorship demands of the Chinese Government.

    Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General said:

    ‘And of course, the information society’s
    very life blood is freedom. It is freedom that
    enables citizens everywhere to benefit from
    knowledge, journalists to do their essential
    work, and citizens to hold government
    accountable. Without openness, without the
    right to seek, receive and impart information
    and ideas through any media and regardless
    of frontiers, the information revolution will
    stall, and the information society we hope to
    build will be stillborn.’

    Be a force for good!

  • Comment number 32.

    There are censorship issues and I think there always will be unless we become a homogenised world with one politcal system. However, Google are doing some very good things to make information accessible to all and meet it's overall mission. I'm interested in how far their mission will extend, geographically, socially, politcally.


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